Swift & Company v. United States (1905)

The Swift & Company v. United States case began when the government filed a lawsuit against the “Beef Trust” using the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Swift & Company was one of many meat dealers around the country who were accused of violating the Sherman Act. The dealers at Swift & Company were buying butchered livestock in one state and then selling the fresh meat to retailers in other different states. The government believed that this was a conspiracy to restrain trade and commerce by fixing the prices of meat and creating an economic monopoly. The government filed a case against Swift & Company, along with several other meat dealers, and they were all found guilty at trial and an injunction was issued that banned them from price fixing any further.

The meat dealers, including Swift & Co., appealed to the United States Supreme Court and had their case chosen for review. Swift & Company claimed that Congress lacked the power to regulate their interstate business activities under the Commerce Clause and this was the Constitutional issue that was raised to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court held that the Sherman Antitrust Act was constitutional and that Congress did have the authority to regulate the activities of the meat trust.

Justice Oliver Holmes wrote the decision and stated in the Court’s reasoning,

“When cattle are sent for sale from a place in one State with the expectation that they will end their transit, after purchase in another, and when in effect they do so … and when this is a typical, constantly recurring course, the current thus existing is a current of commerce among the States, and the purchase of the cattle is part and incident of such commerce.”

Justice Holmes was basically saying that although the defendants’ activities were local in isolation, they were actually part of the “stream of interstate commerce” when viewed together. This case liberalized the previous narrower interpretation of the Commerce Clause that was declared in United States v. E. C. Knight Co.

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